Mask On….Mask Off

When the pandemic hit, we were told to wear masks anytime we were in public. Unfortunately, weren’t instructed in the proper use of them. It’s not as simple as “cover your face.”

As a respiratory therapist and physical therapist, I spent over 30 years wearing masks in a variety of clinical settings. I do not consider myself an expert, but there were certain precautions we were required to follow to help keep ourselves and our patients safe.

1). Once you have your mask in place, you never touch it again, for any reason. If do touch your face or your mask, you must remove your mask, dispose of it, and replace it with a new one. Under no circumstance would you ever reuse a mask.

2). Your mask must completely cover your mouth and nose. Any exposure of either one, no matter how briefly, can contaminate the mask as well as expose the very people you are trying to protect. Including yourself.

3). Again, you would never reuse a mask, but a lot of us are using cloth masks that are reusable, which is fine. But, only if you wash your mask after each and every use. No exceptions. I know, it’s a real pain, but not when you consider what the consequences are if you don’t.

Every time we exhale, our exhaled air contains bacteria and even (ack) viruses that are already in our body, which is necessary for normal body function. It’s called normal flora and helps keep our bodies in balance. When the balance is disrupted, the bacteria and viruses have the opportunity to grow, multiply, and spread.

Exhaling into a mask for an extended period of time increases the number of pathogens (fancy name for germs) into the mask. Then we inhale them, exhaling an even higher concentration of pathogens. And just think….we all spit a little every time we speak. I know, kind of gross, but that’s another normal bodily function. So, not only are you exhaling re-breathed air into your mask, you are spitting in it as well. Again, disrupting the balance of normal flora, which can cause serious sinus and upper respiratory infections, pulmonary complications, digestive issues and a compromised immune system. And make us susceptible to a host of other health issues.

It pains me that our medical “experts” haven’t shared this information with the general public. You see it’s not as simple as “cover your face.” It’s important to follow proper mask protocol, as well as good mask hygiene, regardless of the type of mask you choose to use. Be mindful of your mask, every time you put your mask on, and mask off. Your health depends on it.

 

The Eyes Have it

Making eye contact with another person is crucial to the human connection and establishing a relationship. Averting one’s eyes makes you appear suspicious, furtive, unapproachable, and even dangerous. Or it can communicate to strangers that you are insecure, vulnerable, and an easy target for perpetrators.

However, when you look someone in the eye, there is an immediate connection, and an exchange of information. Your brain processes this information, sending electrical, chemical, and hormonal signals through your body how to react. Eye contact gives you an instantaneous respond as to whether this person is a friend or foe, safe or threatening. That’s why it is so dangerous to walk around in public with your head buried in your cell phone.

First of all, it’s not safe. Second, it desensitizes you to the human experience and the human connection. Third, it’s creepy. But a few days ago I experienced something that was beyond creepy.

I went to the grocery store with my husband to pick up a few things. Much has changed in the past several weeks due to the COVID19 pandemic, and we’re all used to the masks, the social distancing, the hand washing, etc. But I wasn’t prepared for what I saw in the store that day.

Just a few days earlier, people were looking at each other, making eye contact, and even smiling at each other. The unspoken message was, “Hey, this is kind of weird, but we’re all in this together and this soon shall pass.”

But on this particular day people were social distancing, wearing their masks, and avoiding eye contact. Many of them were averting their eyes, furtively looking away and even turning their backs when another person walked by them. It was creepy, incredibly disturbing, and dehumanizing. I felt like I was in a store with a bunch of zombies, or maybe even a few mass murderers. People behaved as if each one knew that the other had a deep, dark, horrible secret that they were trying to hide. I couldn’t wait to get out of the store.

On the way out one woman stopped at the entrance to dig in her purse, creating a back log of shoppers behind her. We tried to go around her, but we were trapped. I glanced at the police officer guarding the entrance, but she turned her back on me when I looked at her. So much for guarding the store. Shoppers were trying to get in, others were trying to get out, no one was looking at each other and no one said a word. Not even an “excuse me.” It was surreal.

When we finally broke loose and made it outside I was disheartened and depressed. Is this where we are now as a society? That we are so disconnected from each other that we walk around like zombies or robots, not looking at each other and not speaking to one another?  What has happened to the human connection?

But then magic happened. As we pulled the bags out of the cart, a man walked briskly around the corner, saw us with a free cart, looked me in the eye, gave me a big smile and said, “Are you done with this?” “Yes,” I replied, “Here, let me clean it off for you.” And I whipped out my spray bottle of alcohol from my purse. He continued to smile at me, and still holding my gaze said, “Nah, I’m good!” I sprayed the cart anyway.

That man made my day. Because in that simple encounter, he lifted my spirits, and restored my faith in humanity and human dignity. All because he made eye contact with me. And gave me a smile.